The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 22 of 25
Although this list is in no particular order from numbers 1 to 24, many Cardiff City fans will think it is a gross error of judgment that this former Aston Villa player’s name is appearing before Christmas Day. He actually came second in the voting by quite a distance in both directions, but he’ll always be Joe Harrison‘s number one.
Peter Whittingham (Cardiff City)
YouTube scouting has become a serious affliction for football fans in recent years — not least because in the vast majority of cases it seems to raise hopes and expectations to a quite ridiculous level. A compilation video, underscored with terrible music you vaguely recognise, complete with pictures dissolving on and off the screen containing grainy footage of a reserve game for a French second division team showing your team’s latest unearthed gem taking a dangerous free-kick and even showing off a stepover or two.
“We’ve got a player here”, fans think, before being disappointed when said player eventually ends his first season by lamely chipping a penalty in a rather important play-off match. This was definitely not written with any specific player in mind, of course.
However, one quick search of Peter Whittingham’s name can tell you a lot. How many players can score a goal like this?
Further research will prove that this is no fluke, not the one wonder goal many average players get during their career. Whittingham has produced the spectacular so regularly for Cardiff that it is almost becoming mundane.
You’ve really got to feel sorry for Joe Ralls: days after signing a professional contract, the teenager makes his league debut at Hull, scoring a first time, 25-yard volley with the outside of his left-foot. We’re only just approaching the New Year and already there would be some debate over whether that goal would even make the top three of Cardiff’s Goal of the Season competition, with Whittingham providing so many other contenders already. Fans of Reading, Leicester, Barnsley, Coventry, Middlesbrough and many other clubs can look back ruefully on stunning strikes against them over the last five years.
Whittingham began his career in the youth system at Aston Villa, making 56 appearances for them in total in the Premier League, while also having loan spells at Burnley and Derby County. However, he soon decided he needed regular first-team football and so left Villa to join Cardiff in January 2007 for a reported fee of around £350,000. He found himself out of the team during the first half of the 2007-08 season, but re-established himself in the Bluebirds midfield in time to play a huge role throughout Cardiff’s run to the FA Cup final.
2008/09 saw his season disrupted by injury, managing just 23 league starts and 3 goals. It may sound strange now, but at this stage Whittingham was a slightly divisive figure amongst Cardiff fans. His supporters saw his superb technique and ability on the ball and appreciated his contribution while others (often including local hacks) questioned what he “brought to the party” — essentially, some felt he didn’t run around kicking people enough.
This all changed during the following season. From midfield, Whittingham scored an astonishing 25 goals in all competitions, leading the Bluebirds to the play-off final, even scoring in both legs of the semi-final against Leicester — the first being a typically brilliant free-kick. There was no questioning his importance now. The following campaign saw a comparatively modest return of 11 league goals, but that still represents a significant haul for a midfielder, particularly one competing for attacking space with the likes of Bellamy, Bothroyd, Chopra, Burke et al.
Cardiff’s second successive play-off failure and the departure of Dave Jones, the man who brought him to the club, could have marked the end of Whittingham’s Cardiff career, with other Championship teams sniffing around as the exodus at the Cardiff City Stadium continued. However, new manager Malky Mackay arrived and instantly made it clear that Whittingham was a key part of his plans and this has been borne out on the pitch this season.
No longer the versatile player moved around midfield to accommodate others (as he was at times last season) — Whittingham is now the fulcrum of the Cardiff midfield, the creative force around which the team is built. Mackay has also talked about trying to ensure his number 7 takes more responsibility and becomes one of the side’s leaders on the pitch.
Mackay’s faith in Whittingham has been repaid with seven league goals already and a number of important assists. In November, Cardiff went unbeaten through all five league matches, winning four and scoring nine goals. Whittingham scored or directly assisted eight of those goals. He has risen to the challenge and responsibility given to him by his manager and a player many already considered one of the best in the Championship is in the form of his life.
Whittingham’s work-rate is undervalued (he was the best performer in the club’s infamous “bleep test” during pre-season), his tackling and control of games from the midfield are vastly improved and his touch, set pieces and shooting are simply sublime. Not naming any names (Nigel Reo-Coker), but just think about how many hugely average midfielders (Lee Cattermole) have spent huge chunks of their career in the Premier League (Dickson Etuhu) without coming near to possessing the class and ability Whittingham has.
He is very unfortunate not to top this list, but what is not in doubt is that Cardiff City are lucky to have a player who would grace the Premier League and if his form continues, he may just be doing just that with the Bluebirds next season.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.